Case Studies

Emily Foxall

Recruitment & HR Administration Team Leader, Staffordshire University

Please tell me about your role at the university

As part of the Human Resources and Organisational Development team, my role as Recruitment and HR Admin Team Leader involves managing a small team of HR Administrators at Staffordshire University. My team are responsible for all recruitment activity and processing all aspects of the employee lifecycle for academic and professional services.

One of my main roles is to review current processes to ensure they are efficient and aligned with our digital ethos, this is especially relevant as Staffordshire University is striving to become the UK’s foremost digital University. I am currently working on automating a large number of manual processes to allow my team to focus on providing the best candidate experience within recruitment. Improving candidate experience is a focus of my role as the University wants to employ the highest quality staff to provide the best teaching experiences for all of our students.

The best part of my role is that we know we can truly make a difference. Our role is to support employees who, in turn, support our students. We are all part of a larger community and although I work in a relatively small team, the impact of our work spans directly and indirectly to a large number of people.

How did you come to work in higher education? Please tell me about your career background.

I come from a background of spending ten years working in local government, working in a variety of different roles. After completing my HR qualifications, I took the plunge into the private sector to understand how HR differed between sectors.

I worked for a large and established private organisation and loved the facilities and experiences I had in this role, as my first step outside the public sector it was the best experience and was the first time I realised that HR was the career for me. Due to office relocation I then joined a smaller private organisation that had several smaller companies under its umbrella. This organisation was a completely different type of private sector organisation and whilst in this role I started to develop an understanding of what was important to me in a role and from an employer. This is what led to my current role with Staffordshire University, which at this point in my career is a great opportunity to explore my areas of interest in HR.

I have been lucky enough to work in both the public and private sector in my career and I really enjoyed many aspects of both. However there are two big positives in these sectors that I was searching for in my next role. The first being a community culture – when I worked in a local authority the culture of the organisation was very community minded. This is something I have always thrived on and felt motivated me to do the best job. The feeling that my work is driving a community of people, most of which I would not actually meet, really inspired me. In the private sector I enjoyed the speed at which technology and development of processes was embraced. Changes and implementation had a much quicker turn around which meant a great experience for candidates and employees.

After experiencing the positives of others I came to work in Higher Education as from my own research and word of mouth I had heard that working in the HE sector is a great combination of the two main factors I was searching for. I was successful in my application for this role and my experience of Higher Education has allowed me to feel part of something bigger whilst maintaining a friendly community feel about my organisation. I can verify this as I now work at Staffordshire University and very quickly felt ‘Proud to be Staffs’, but have also been able to make a difference in a short time, implementing small but important changes across the team.

Would you say your job is rewarding/meaningful?

My job is very rewarding, and I feel within the HE sectors there is a large amount of job satisfaction as being part of the next generation of society is always going to leave you feeling your role is meaningful.

HR has a function to support and recruit employees for the University and they are then responsible for teaching, assisting and guiding the students of today. Our students may go on to play vital roles in changing society as we know it and it is great to know that the team and I have played a small role in that. This is even more prevalent right now with the impact science and research is having on the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have also just experienced my first Celebrating Staff Success Event with Staffordshire University and have been able to see the work of several my colleagues celebrated in front of the whole organisation. This was an incredibly rewarding event and gave me a real insight into how important it is to feel your work and role is meaningful to an organisation and the HE sector as a whole.

How do you think working in higher education compares to working in the commercial/government sector?

I have been lucky enough to work in the government sector, private and now HE sector and all sectors like any have their pros and cons. It is important that you find what is meaningful to you as individual and that you can translate that into your role in your chosen sector. As I have already outlined, I knew from my experience that I was looking for two main factors, which I found in HE.

An area which does differ when working in the HE and government sectors in comparison to commercial is sharing experiences and information. Naturally, university and government sectors are keen to share experiences and knowledge and form partnerships with other organisations. Even though essentially we are competitors, I do think universities are good at working together and sharing their knowledge and initiatives with others which is something you do not see in the commercial sector very often.

In particular,  I would say that universities as a whole have a community spirit which isn’t always found in other organisations and I think that comes from being surrounded by students who are at a really exciting point in their lives. This atmosphere spreads and envelops employees as much as the students.

Please highlight any development opportunities you’ve had

Development Opportunities are a key part of HR’s function and working within the HR team has given me the opportunity to see how many development opportunities are available to our staff. More importantly, I have been able to see first-hand how important development opportunities are to the organisation at Staffordshire University, all requests for development are considered and evaluated seriously.

Recently I have been offered the opportunity to enrol on several courses outlining the upcoming changes in recruitment and UKVI regulations. This will allow me to explore areas that will be useful for my role and will guide me through the next few years of the recruitment in HR. Alongside this the University is offering a number of workshops covering Effective Communication, Foundations of Management and Coaching conversations for staff to engage with in areas they have interest in developing.

Development is also a key part of our Personal Development Review process and all employees are asked about areas they wish to develop in and their long-term career aspirations. It is important part of all employee’s roles regardless of department or service, and this allows mangers to understand projects or areas of interest of all their staff. This forms part of an informal development process within the University that allows employees to get involved in projects and upcoming events in their areas of interest.

In general, I have found my manager and the general culture of the University to be incredibly supportive and welcoming of all development opportunities I would like to explore.

Please tell me about your experience of the facilities on campus for university life/wellbeing

Staffordshire University is the Connected University; connected to the needs of students, academic partners, business and society. Our main city campus in Stoke-on-Trent features excellent learning and teaching facilities and good transport links. We have specialist Centres of Excellence in Healthcare Education at Stafford and Shrewsbury.

Our main campus is at the forefront of digital technology – from games programming and digital forensics, to big data and our new Esports Hub. Students are given access to a range of specialist equipment to support their studies and so they’ll have the edge in the workplace.

The UK Government was very clear that universities – along with the education sector more generally – must continue their operations during the second national lockdown due to COVID-19. Significant measures had already been put in place to ensure our campuses are COVID-secure.  During this current period, and in line with government guidance, essential campus services have remained open, including our Libraries and our student support services. Facilities on campus in a ‘normal’ situation are excellent, however throughout the current pandemic they have exceeded my expectations.

The facilities on campus, whether physical or virtual, have all been modified to provide the best experience for employee’s health and wellbeing. The University has adapted to enable employees to work on campus with safety measures in place, off-site or from employees’ homes and meetings, courses and other events continue to take place virtually.

The Employee Assistance Programme provides advice, information, and support from qualified experts. Alongside this there are a number of tools to help with emotional, mental and physical support via our intranet services which are free to access for all employees and available at all times regardless of whether employees are on campus or working off site.

The university have also implemented a Blended Working Framework which provides the opportunity to fundamentally change the approach to how and where employees work. In short, it is about where activity can be best performed to deliver the best results, supported by the appropriate level of facilities.

The ability to continue to function in every aspect of the organisation throughout the pandemic is a credit to the facilities and the organisation.

What do you like most about working at a university?

There are several things I like about working at a university, but it would be difficult to decide between two reasons.

Firstly, Staffordshire University has a strong digital strategy and focus on automation of processes. Embracing technology and the improvements this can have for employees, applicants and students alike is inspiring and motivating.

Secondly one of the things I like most about working at the University is the hustle and bustle of working on campus. Whilst right now that is a little different due to the COVID-19 safety measures there is still a great atmosphere and employees continue to interact with students in small face-to-face settings or in larger groups online.

What has been your career highlight whilst working in higher education and why?

I have only been in the higher education for a relatively short time in comparison to my whole career however I have been lucky enough to implement a number of small changes within my teams processes which have improved the way they work. I am currently working on and nearing the end of implementing two large processes to our internal recruitment system which will give the team more time to focus on managing their working relationships with recruiting managers and providing specialist advice about how to recruit the best quality candidates. My passion within HR is change management and has been for a number of years, as this is one of my first larger change projects managed from beginning to the end it is likely to remain a career highlight for some time.

On a personal level it has been a career highlight to find the role, and more importantly the sector I was looking for. When I was looking for my next role, I started to understand what was important to me in a prospective employer, in particular the combination of the culture and the way in which changes are implemented were imperative. It is a career highlight to feel like I am in the right place, at the right time, to be a part of something important for my organisation.